First Liberty Defends U.S. Air Force Service Members from Religious Discrimination

May 30, 2022
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by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

Last week, First Liberty filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DoD) and Secretary of the Air Force over their discriminatory treatment of U.S. Air Force service members seeking religious accommodations to the military vaccine mandate.

The Air Force has rejected almost all applications for religious accommodation, despite approving hundreds of medical and administrative exemptions. More than 9,000 religious accommodation requests have been submitted. The suit names several active-duty members, but is also filed as a class action to represent all Air Force service members who have been denied accommodation. Additionally, it asks the court to stop military officials from enforcing the vaccine mandate against them while the case is being heard.

In the complaint, First Liberty explains that discriminating and threatening adverse action because of their religious beliefs is illegal. It violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, federal law and Department of Defense regulations. The laws are clear: All service members have a right to serve our country without having to violate their religious beliefs.

Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty, said:

“At a time of instability and ever-increasing threats around the world, the U.S. military is forcing tens of thousands of our bravest out of the service of their nation because they’ve chosen to live according to their faith. Punishing these service members for seeking religious accommodation is vindictive and punitive. Religious liberty is essential to national security, and our service members deserve better.”

Our clients, however, are not the only ones in the Air Force facing unfair treatment and punishment.

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The U.S. Air Force Academy recently announced it would not allow several cadets to graduate. According to the Academy, the only options graduating seniors had were to “receive the vaccine” or “voluntarily resign.” And for those who have sincere religious objections to the vaccine, yet wanted to graduate and become Air Force officers, they would “face consequences.”

Later, the Academy said the cadets would receive their bachelor’s degrees. But according to a local news report, they were unable to participate in the graduation ceremony. And, there’s still the impending threat their military careers could be on the verge of ruin. An Academy spokesperson said, “They will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated.” Each could be liable to repay $200,000 or more in tuition.

This punitive approach is outrageous. It sends a harsh message that if you’re person of faith who aspires to serve your country in uniform, you need not apply. Whether it’s young cadets or experienced, decorated veterans, they dedicate years of their lives to keep America free. Forcing them to choose between their religious faith and serving their nation dishonors their sacrifice.

It’s clear from what’s happening to Air Force service members that the fight for religious freedom is far from over. Those who vehemently oppose religious expression in the military are constantly finding new ways to target anyone who wants to serve in a manner consistent with their faith.

In addition to our Air Force clients, First Liberty continues an important legal battle for 35 U.S. Navy SEALs, who are also facing discrimination and punishment for their religious beliefs.

The DoD has repeatedly mistreated and unlawfully discriminated against these elite warriors. They’ve been threatened with involuntary separation, denied from advancement opportunities and, in some cases, even denied medical care. Like those in the Air Force, they’ve been forced to choose between their faith and serving their country.

First Liberty has secured several key victories over the last several months. These wins have helped protect our clients from further punishment and, thanks to a class action, have extended protection to thousands of Navy personnel with religious objections to the mandate.

But there’s still a great deal of work ahead to fully vindicate our Air Force heroes and the Navy SEALs. Both cases are pending in federal court, which means many important legal battles are on the horizon. And we need your support to deliver a victory.

Will you help First Liberty keep defending our military heroes?

Just as they did not give up on their country, First Liberty will never give up on our service members. We will keep fighting for their First Freedom, for their right to live out their faith freely and openly.

With Military Appreciation Month winding to a close, your gift can help make our men and women in uniform feel appreciated for what they do. Please donate today.

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